There are stringent safety compliance issues around bringing MICE groups into South Africa and this lucrative inbound tourism sector is at risk should the government not take swift action to address safety concerns and decrease risks.

“Uncertainty around safety could easily see South Africa being scratched off the list of potential destinations for the MICE sector – which sees massive global industry conferences and high-end luxury trips for top executives and their families,” warned SATSA CEO, David Frost.

GM of the Thebe Tourism Group, Brett Hendricks, agreed, highlighting in a recent opinion piece for Business Live that questions about whether or not it was “safe to travel to SA” came largely from prospective travellers themselves, asking a generic question of their booking agents.

“Now, however, with daily reports of attacks, particularly on tourists, it’s become the trade asking whether it is, indeed, safe for them to entrust their clients to our market. That’s a very dangerous paradigm shift, one that’s showing in the numbers,” he wrote.

Executive chairman of Dragonfly Africa, Rupert Jeffries, told Tourism Update that the destination management company – that focuses strongly on the MICE sector – continued to receive a lot of questions about safety in South Africa.

“We are usually able to give our clients good and sound advice from the ground here in Southern Africa. We also often put clients who have recently completed incentive trips down to South Africa in touch with those that are looking to do the same,” he said, pointing out that the group’s travel and MICE businesses have continued to grow in spite of the odd instances that occur.

“I think this is due to the fact that the world has really become much, much smaller over the last six or seven years and, apart from localised incidents, South Africa is really a safe destination compared to so many other cities in the world where terrorism, and worse, prevails,” added Jeffries.

Furthermore, with the MICE market there is always an inspection trip prior to confirming South Africa.  “Nine times out of ten the client is completely won over by the sophistication, friendliness, good service and diversity of the destination that we have here in South Africa,” he commented.

According to Jeffries, South Africa’s tourism organisations have recently been particularly proactive in combating perceptions. “There was recently a very significant and large meeting that was held in various cities in the USA regarding this matter,” he noted.

Jeffries however echoed earlier sentiments expressed by Martin Wiest, CEO of Tourvest Destination Management, that security needed to improve in order for the market to regain confidence in the destination.

“We need to deal with the perception of safety in South Africa. Such things as dangers on Table Mountain and the chaotic situation at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg where tourists are often intimidated, should be stopped immediately,” he said.